17 days until Hellboy Day - The Black Flame
Had things been told in a linear way, this history would have started out as a Golden-Age villain’s origin story. But that is not how the Hellboy books work. No, they make you hate a thing before they go back and fully explain it. Despite that hatred, my hatred, here is the tale from what we know to be the start.
“Well I’m a German deserter and a drunk, and I’m terrified. But I won’t let that stop me.” ~ Farang, 1923.
Plagued with nightmare-like visions of the Black Goddess since childhood, Raimund Diestel ended up a deserter of the Imperial German Navy. While hiding out in Siam (Thailand) under the alias Farang, he became a drunken opium addict. Despite his debauchery, he successfully acted as a local guide for an expedition lead by Sarah Jewell, an associate of Sir Edward Grey. Their destination was the Temple of the Back Flame, where a mysterious cult had been kidnapping young girls. Upon thwarting the cult’s efforts to sacrifice one of the girls, it was revealed that “Farang” was the actual subject of their blood ritual and he unwillingly absorbed the power of the Black Flame. The Siamese girl he was tricked into thinking would be sacrificed called herself Kamala. She explained that the Black Goddess had secretly orchestrated their fates. Diestel’s “great and terrible destiny” was to become a living avatar of “the great darkness”. Meanwhile Kamala would act as his teacher, high priestess, handmaiden, guide, spouse and servant.
That was the first known person to carry the Black Flame mantle in the Hellboy universe.
“Nein!” ~ Raimund Diestel, The Black Flame, 1932.
Occult villains for hire, Kamala and Diestel traveled to America where they were employed by the big city mob boss Arnie Wald. Their task was to terrorize a local neighborhood by burning homes to the ground, for Wald’s hostile takeover. However, the plan was quickly interrupted by masked vigilante the Lobster. The Black Flame, able to burn everything around him with little to no effort, was seemingly impossible to kill, thanks in part to a mystical link with Kamala. Fortunately, the Lobster always wins. The link was broken and Diestel’s flame was extinguished when Kamala was run over by a car and killed. Justice was served and a weakened Diestel was arrested. He was returned to his homeland when transferred to a cell in Haufftiz Castle Maximum Security Prison, Germany.
“Of course. Heil…” ~ Raimund Diestel, The Black Flame, 1944.
Imprisoned and broken, Diestel found new purpose when Adolf Hitler offered him freedom by way of recruitment. In September, 1944, The Black Flame embarked on a mission to steal an experimental U.S. military aircraft called the Flying Wing. A couple of months later, American and vril-wielding iron-soldier Sledgehammer, was sent to recover the Flying Wing. He actually killed Raimund Diestel in battle.
During the ordeal, a photograph of the Black Flame was taken by a camera man named Mr. Corrigan. Decades later that same photograph was spotted in a long since forgotten file at Colorado B.P.R.D. headquarters by Agent Johann Kraus, the Ectoplasmic Man.
That photo was the first appearance of the Black Flame in the Hellboy universe.
“I…I think I made a mistake.” ~ Landis Pope, The Black Flame, Idaho during the War on Frogs.
At first, Landis Pope was nothing more than a fool and a wannabe super villain. As Zinco Corporation’s CEO, Pope raised suspicions when he began selling off company assets and “ballooning” the company’s R&D budget. In time, Pope revealed to Zinco’s board of directors his obsession with Nazi occult memorabilia and his intentions to carry on the mantle of the Black Flame. He had been secretly nurturing and studying frog monsters while constructing a homemade Black Flame suit of his own. His artificial blue flame was enough to engage the frog monsters in a ritual that allowed him to take on the actual power of the Black Flame. Not only did Pope literally own the remains of Raimund Diestel, but he willingly became the new incarnation of the villain.
The frog monsters were running rampant and it was up to the B.P.R.D. to stop them. After a battle in Ontario, Canada, beloved B.P.R.D. Agent Roger the homunculus was tragically killed. Roger and his entire squad were blown up by the Black Flame. The events at the Sime Steel Works that day left readers in a state of disbelief and deep despair.
Soon afterwards, Pope realized his transformation had become permanent and worse, that his purpose was more limited than he’d intended. Instead of owning the power of Katha-Hem, the frog monsters explained to him that he was merely a vessel saying, “your voice wakes him, your flame a beacon for his long dim eyes…” And with that, Katha-Hem appeared on Earth and Landis Pope admitted his horrible mistake. Of course, that’s after he learned he’d been manipulated by forces more evil than himself. Later, in a pathetic attempt to apologize for killing Roger, Pope was dragged into a giant crevice by the frog monsters. Kicking and screaming, he begged B.P.R.D. Agent Liz Sherman to save him, but it was useless and he disappeared into the ground.
“I’m sorry about your agent. That was inexcusable.” ~ Landis Pope, The Black Flame, Underground.
Deep underground, Pope tried to make a life for himself with the frog monsters, allying with the subterranean Servants of the Left Hand ruled by the King of Fear. Together they plotted to take over the world until they were located by the B.P.R.D. Subsequently, they were wiped out completely when Liz Sherman, using pyrokinesis, set fire to them all. Though Liz may have inadvertently opened the gates of Hell, the Black Flame was dead…or was he?
“Everything.” ~ Landis Pope, The Black Flame, reincarnated.
In an attempt to revive their master, the classic Hellboy villain Rasputin, accomplices Leopold Kurtz and Karl Kroenen joined forces with the Zinco Corporation. In a dramatic twist, they instead brought Landis Pope, aka the Black Flame, back from the dead. But, this time he embodied a truly monstrous form with potentially unlimited power. In a world overrun with the Ogdru Hem, the Black Flame was able to take control of New York City where Zinco set up their base of operations.
“Vitae semper vincit!” ~ Landis Pope, The Black Flame, NYC.
Acting as a god and claiming to be connected to all of life, the Black Flame battled his original killer, Liz Sherman. Liz tried to kill him again during an assault by the combined forces of the B.P.R.D. and Russia’s Special Sciences Service. With newfound abilities, Liz fought the Black Flame in a spectacularly destructive brawl spanning the entire city, but did not kill him. Arrogant with assertions of immortality, the Black Flame states that he will live forever unless life is eradicated from the planet and that “life always wins”.
After the battle, the B.P.R.D. and the S.S.S. regrouped. The Black Flame retained control of New York where he seemed to assist in awakening the Ogdru Jahad.
“Semper victor mortis.” ~ Liz Sherman, NYC.
In the time since the first New York battle, one of the Seven, the Ogdru Jahad, had come to Earth. The B.P.R.D. tried to destroy it, but the Black Flame attacked and a battle ensued that would last multiple issues. Using the original vril-powered Sledgehammer armor as a containment suit, Johann Kraus nearly destroyed the Black Flame, but it was Liz who finally took him down. While distracted by Johann, Liz snuck up from behind and mega-fried his brain until he was dead. Johann, acting on behalf of anyone who ever loved Roger the homunculus, continued to beat the Black Flame’s lifeless corpse. Johann pounded him until his armor was blue with the pulp of his enemy. Liz intervened saying, “For Christ’s sake, Johann! He’s already gone!” To which Johann replied, “Ja! Tot! And still it is not enough.”
And that, as they say, was that.
What hurts more than the death of a beloved hero? His murderer living on, dying, then living again, then getting his own damn mini series. It is 2019, and no reader of Hellboy comics can honestly say whether or not we’ve seen the last of that most despicable villain. Maybe we have. But maybe we haven’t and to that I say, Kill the Black Flame!
You can read all about the Black Flame in:
The Black Goddess
The Black Flame
Reign of the Black Flame
Return of the Master
The King Fear
Hell on Earth
Rise of the Black Flame
Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand
Sledgehammer 44: Lightning War